A tale from Africa
How Anansi Became Keeper of All the Stories
Long, long ago, my children, when all the animals lived in the African jungle and spoke politely to one another, Lion, who was King of the jungle, owned all the stories.
Now one day, Anansi, the spider, went to Lion and said, “Lion, king and sire, you are so great and powerful, you do not need also to be the owner of all the stories.”
“Oh?” said Lion. “And why should I not be???”
“Because, your name is used in so many other ways. Like, when us animals are just lyin’ around…or when someone is lyin’ through their teeth,” giggled Anansi.
Anansi’s cuteness at his expense angered Lion and he roared, “Well Anansi, if you think you are so clever, I’ll give you my stories. But you will have to prove your cleverness by bringing to me Giant Blacksnake tied onto a pole.”
Then King Lion and all the other large animals at Lion’s side laughed at Anansi.
“I will do it!” said Anansi and he scurried away on his nine legs.
Now Anansi set a trap for Great Blacksnake. He dug a hole in the middle of the path that snake came down each day looking for food. He greased the sides of the hole and in the bottom he put one of snake’s favorite foods, a fat banana. Then Anansi hid behind a big rock and waited.
Snake came hissssing and sssslithering down the path. He waggled his tongue out (which is how snakes smell things). He circled the hole. Then he tied his tail around the very rock where Anansi was hiding. He stretched way, way out, reached his mouth down into the hole, swallowed up the banana, and then sssslithered on down the path hissing laughing.
Anansi was mad. He scurried and hurried down the path, way ahead of snake and set another trap of woven vines. He put another fat banana in it and hid again.
When Snake came ssssslithering down the path he sssmelled the banana. He went round and round the trap sssmellling and hissssing and found a way to get in and out of it without being caught. “SSSo Ananssssi,” he said to the hiding spider, “You want to trap me! Why do you want to trap me? You know I am more clever than you!”
Anansi came out of hiding. “Well, to tell you the truth,” he said, “I wanted to prove something to all the other animals. I told them that you were the tallest of all the animals in the jungle. I told them that you could stretch and make yourself taller than a bamboo tree. But of course you cannot. So you are not the tallest.”
“Oh but I am!” said snake. “I can ssstretch as tall as a bamboo tree!”
“Oh I thought you could,” said Anansi. “But we must prove it. See this fallen bamboo tree trunk over here beside the path? If you will just slither up here along side it, we can measure you.”
So Snake slithered up along side the bamboo tree.
“You are almost as tall but not quite,” said Anansi. “But you know, if we tied your tail to the base of the trunk, you could stretch yourself up to the top. I’m sure.”
“Thatsss a good plan,” said Snake. “So Anansi gathered some vine ropes and tied Snake’s tail to the base of the fallen bamboo tree.
“Now stre—e—e—tch, Snake (elongate the word as you say it) Stre-e-e-tch!”
Snake stretched but he still was not quite long enough to reach the tree top.
“You could make it,” said Anansi. “All we have to do is tie your middle to the tree when you stretch again!”
So Snake stretched again.
“Stre—e—-tch!” said Anansi, coaching snake “Stre—e—tch!” Then Anansi quickly tied snake’s middle to the bamboo tree. “You’re not quite there yet Snake. Just one more stretch and you’ll prove you are as tall as the bamboo tree.”
By this time, many of the animals in the jungle had come to watch Snake prove his great length and they all joined Anansi in coaxing him to stretch.
“All right, Snake. One more try and you will make it,” said Anansi. So snake tried stretching as hard as he could one last time.
All the animals called out. (motion the audience to join in the chant) “Stre—e—tsch Snake, str–eeeetch!”
And snake did stretch and his head did reach the very top of the fallen tree. Quick as a snapping turtle’s snap, Anansi tied Snake’s head to the top of the bamboo tree.
“Good for you Snake, you made it! And good for me too! Now let’s go to King Lion.”
And that is how Anansi became the owner of all the stories of the jungle.